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Home > French > Speaking and Writing > Using the past

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Using the past

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Remember your first job is to make sure you read the instructions very carefully, and do what you are asked to do in them!If you are asked to write or talk about some of the things you have done recently, here are some hints on how to go about it. Remember, this means you must use the past tense to describe these activities! If you already have a notebook or a file in your computer in which you keep information about yourself to revise for speaking or writing tests, then add some sentences in the past to help you with this area. Here are some ideas to get you started.

Saying what I did: the perfect with 'avoir'

To talk about the past, we can use J'ai + a past participle (that's a form of the verb) to say what we did: if you don't remember how to do this, look at a grammar bite, look at a textbook, or ask your teacher for help. You should also know what an infinitive and a past participle are!

However, here are some of the past participles you might use normally:

InfinitivePast ParticiplePast TenseEnglish
visitervisitéj'ai visitéI visited
mangermangéj'ai mangéI ate
acheterachetéj'ai achetéI bought
voirvuj'ai vuI saw
finirfinij'ai finiI finished

Note that 'visiter' can only be used in reference to places, not people.

If you want to talk about what you and some other people, friends or family, for instance, did, then the easiest way to do this is to use 'on', which can be used to mean 'we'.

Let's look at those five verbs again.

InfinitivePast ParticiplePast TenseEnglish
visitervisitéon a visitéwe visited
mangermangéon a mangéwe ate
acheterachetéon a achetéwe bought
voirvuon a vuwe saw
finirfinion a finiwe finished

In your dictionary you should be able to find the past participle for any verb you need: make sure you know how to do this with the dictionary you will be using in an exam. If you don't know how to do this, look up the grammar bites!

Your next task should be to write a list of things you have done, just for practice: choose the best ones and put them in your notebook or file.

For more help go to the Past tenses Revision Bite

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Boy holding two plates.

Class Clips

A pupil on the last day of exchange talks in the past tense with his host family

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Man climbing on Ma France.

Ma France

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